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[Live Blog] Borough Council Candidates Night

The League of Women Voters of Centre County is hosting a Candidates Night at the State College Municipal Building for the contested races for State College School District, Borough Council, and State College Mayor. Primary elections will be held May 16 in State College.

In light of past issues with the Borough Council, student leaders have come together this year to launch BugPAC, a political campaign to reclaim State College and elect pro-student candidates to the Council and mayoral positions. The organization also aims to register more students to vote in State College and request absentee ballots, as the municipal primary occurs after finals week.

Borough Council candidates participating in tonight’s Q&A session include undergraduate student Rylie Cooper, graduate student and BugPAC-endorsee Marina Cotarelo, incumbent Councilwoman Theresa Lafer, Steve Mower, BugPAC-endorsee Dan Murphy, and incumbent Councilman and BugPAC-endorsee Evan Myers.

Mayoral candidates include BugPAC-endorsee Michael Black, current Councilwoman Catherine Dauler, current Councilwoman Janet Engeman, and former Councilman Don Hahn.

Follow along for live updates from the statements of council and mayoral candidates or watch the event’s livestream here.

Mayoral Candidates

How many Borough meetings have you attended and how do you feel that affects your ability to work on day one?

Black: Has been to numerous council meetings and board meetings, but has never counted. Participated both quietly and actively at time.

Dauler: Has been to numerous council meetings because she’s been on Council for 14 years.

Engeman: Has been to numerous council meetings because she’s been on Council for “a long time.”

Hahn: Has been to numerous council meetings because he served 12 years on Council, including two years as Council President.

What can we do as a community to end the “us vs. them” mentality between residents and students?

Dauler: “My experience as a councilmember and as council president working with students and administrators…have been very positive.” Says when she was on council,

Engeman: “The best way to do that is to talk to the students…I’ve made every effort that I can to engage in both political and social activities with members of the student community.”

Hahn: “Four years ago…State College was named one of the top three communities for students.”

Black: “We need to start with the value of inclusivity, then we need to act and engage.” Cites experience in the art community, coaching serving, and mentoring to engage both student and long-term resident communities.

What is your work like with organizations like the League of Cities and how is that important to State College?

Engeman: Is not involved in League of Cities.

Hahn: Served on finance and governmental relations committees as well as steering committee for League of Cities. Says it allows him to focus in on issues of core communities.

Black: Is involved in several national organizations, but not League of Cities. “What is not apparent to everyone is that we have a deep relationship with our alumni.” Relationships with alumni association, student governments, and neighborhood associations are important.

Dauler: Has been involved for a number of years; says importance of League of Cities cannot be overstated.

How would you work to keep State College a welcoming community for people from around the world?

Hahn: “I want to follow in the footsteps of Mayor Goreham in terms of diversity and inclusion.” Says he’s learned
“State College is full of women and men of good will — of every color and religion — who welcome people and their involvement.”

Black: “We’re a very inclusive community and I think that we stand to be welcoming, civil, respectful, and inclusive.” Advocates for embracing empathy and encouraging people to live, work, exist, and visit in the Borough.

Dauler: Says one of her students was affected by the travel ban. “There wasn’t much I could do about the travel ban itself, but I did call GT Thompson’s office and I asked what the policies were that were in place and how they would affect my student.”

Engeman: “I think one of the things that we need to do as a community is to be inclusive…I have friends of all ethnicities, and I would prefer to think of them just as friends.”

Council recently enacted rules limiting interaction with the public in the interests of efficiency. How would you improve Borough Council meetings?

Black: Says new rules were written by current Council president Tom Daubert but were not voted on by council. Would like to hear as much public feedback as possible.

Dauler: Says new changes were to adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order more carefully. “This may limit some of the persistent questions we may get from just a few people.” Says council is not trying to neglect or overlook certain people.

Engeman: “We have to be able to complete the meeting in a timely fashion.”

Hahn: Says he’s never had problems with too much public input during his time on Borough Council. “I would like Council to repeal those rules.

What skills and knowledge do you bring to this position?

Dauler: “My long time of being involved in this organization and being involved in local government has given me the skills that I need.”

Engeman: “I believe that I have the ability to draw out the needs of a group of people and to interact with them.” Says her management background is important to being the public face of the community.

Hahn: “The best way to preside over a meeting is to welcome input.” Says he’s been involved in numerous hearings as an attorney. Wants to give everyone a fair opportunity to share their opinions.

Black: “For the last 25 years, I have invested myself personally and professionally in this Borough.” Has experience flipping real estate, growing a business, coaching, and raising a family in State College. “I build relationships by understanding who my friends and associates are. I understand them and I get to know them and we work through issues efficiently and effectively together.”

Closing Statements

Engeman: Thinks someone who wants to be the face of the town needs to have “an over-arching appreciation of what the community is all about.”

Dauler: “Public service has always been a great joy for me, confirming what I knew all along: Local government is important and essential.” Pledges to promote civility, transparency, equity, and inclusion.

Black: “I’m running for mayor for three reasons: Right reason. Right people. Right time.” Says he’s lived the “ideal life” the Borough wants its citizens to have. “I’m here because the right people are stepping up with me.” The people want something different — not only different, but better. “If you value neighborhood preservation, if you value business growth, and if you value community affairs, hold me accountable.”

Hahn: To my fellow candidates: “I think that you’ve made me a better candidate, and hopefully a better mayor.” Says the election is not only about experience, but also about the future, where the mayor will redefine the role of the office. “I am ready and able to represent State College as its mayor and to advocate for its values.”

Borough Council Candidates

How does Penn State affect State College’s success?

Cooper: “Graduate students and young professionals contribute a lot to State College’s community.”

Cotarelo: “We need to start branding our own think-tanks and startups and we need to work with them and collaborate a little bit more.”

Lafer: “The community and the university are separate institutions but one community…we need to be as inclusive as possible of all the people within the borough — faculty, staff, students, retirees…investments from the Borough have moved us towards a more inclusive community.”

Mower: “There are certainly some very tangible economic benefits that go both ways.” Says Penn State gives the Borough a fee in lieu of taxes and also provides in-kind services. “The vast number of students gives us a great opportunity for our merchants to be much more successful…and they do add to the vibrancy of our downtown.”

Murphy: “State College has the benefit of a new stream of residents each year to the tune of 12,000 new students…I think we want to create more opportunities for jobs, reasons to stay…partnerships — fiscal — and resources.”

Myers: “Penn State is really the 300-pound gorilla that sits across College Ave…it can work as an economic engine, it can help with entrepreneurship and that kind of development, but we all need to work together and collaborate…I think we see what happens when we don’t work together.”

What is your position on growth in the community?

Cotarelo: Encourages growth of the Penn State and Borough communities to expand downtown South. Says growth encourages increased diversity and inclusion within the university.

Lafer: “Growth is sometimes a dirty word in State College. Growth means change and not everybody always likes change.” Says housing growth is important, but it can’t be all high rises.

Mower: “We have the ability to gain some good insight from our neighborhood associations and other groups, including Penn State.” Says the Borough Council should pay attention to and enact recommendations from different groups.

Murphy: “I think we need to develop out, and I don’t mean beyond our borders, but I mean having the conversations bout development that extends beyond our downtown core.” Says development should bring and retain diversity among young professionals and residents.

Myers: “There’s a lot of ways the community can grow…we have to be able to work with that pressure with the limited resources that we have…we need to understand there are all kinds of avenues that growth takes us in.”

Cooper: “Before we look at our growth as far as housing goes, I think we also need to look at our financial growth…we need to look at other creative avenues of funding.” Advocates for a pour tax.

How can you continue conversation on policies?

Lafer: Come to meetings. E-mail us. Watch the livestream on television. Fill out the bi-yearly citizen survey.

Mower: Neighborhood associations. Exchange ideas and move forward with them.

Murphy: “One of the major reasons why I’m running is to invite that conversation.” Invite renters to be involved in the conversation to provide their voices.

Myers: Encourage folks to attend and speak at Borough Council meetings.

Cooper: Feels she has had a seat at the table by attending meetings. “When you actually sit at that table and listen to what these people have the say, you realize that you have a lot in common with them.” Says voters should elect candidates dedicated to both town and gown, not one or the other.

Cotarelo: “I think there are ways that we can diversity the methods that we communicate with our different constituents and stakeholders in the Borough.” Create new avenues to hear new voices.

What is your experience with budgetary management?

Mower: Touts his experience in business and with multinational companies, says the Borough should look for additional revenue sources.

Murphy: Manages $1.3 million operating budget in his position at Penn State from student dollars. “My best experience has been paying down my student loans and credit card debt personally.”

Myers: Cites experiences as senior vice president and chief operating officer of Accuweather. Denounces Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts. “We need to figure out ways that we can protect our citizens…without burdening them any further.”

Cooper: “I’ve been handling my own personal funds since I was 16 and started my first job as a waitress.” Says Borough needs to find new sources of revenue and encourage students to file taxes in State College. Reiterates importance of pour tax.

Cotarelo: “I’ve been privileged to have a robust combination of experiences on university committees and board that oversee finances.” Suggests the Borough create revenue-generating incomes with property owners.

Lafer: “Like most of us here, i have worked and been in business and some of that work has been in accounting fields…we don’t want to do cuts because we have services in our community that people want and appreciate.” Agrees the Borough needs to find additional revenue sources.

What have you used political action committee funding for?

Murphy: Is self-funding, but is endorsed by BugPAC. Says it’s important to model good money management in campaigning.

Myers: “To accept money from a SuperPAC is actually illegal.” Is also endorsed by BugPAC. Says he welcomes support from residents in the State College community.

Cooper: Not supported by a political action committee. Says she would not accept funds from a PAC. “If we let one political action committee into State College, then who’s to say we won’t let another PAC in, and another PAC?”

Cotarelo: Is self-funding, but is also endorsed by BugPAC. “I will certainly use my funds in a responsible manner and I have done so up to this point and will continue to do so.”

Lafer: Says she accepts small amounts from friends, neighbors, and fellow business-people. Uses funds to raise awareness for her campaign.

Mower: “I’m not a PAC fan, either.” Is largely self-funded, but has some donations from friends, family, and other residents who buy into his campaign. He’s used these funds to purchase flyers.

What do you think the Council’s role should be in preserving the college town atmosphere, small businesses, and neighborhoods?

Myers: “I think that it would be great to see more spaces for local businesses to develop in downtown State College. I think we need to encourage entrepreneurship.” Wants to keep student entrepreneurs in State College and provide space for their development.

Cooper: “We need to look at affordable housing once again.” Those creating the downtown environment need somewhere to live.

Cotarelo: “I believe we need to create more spaces to enhance community well-being. It’s not just about maximizing efficiency, but it’s about maximizing experiences with people.” Advocates for more community gathering spaces, both outdoor and indoor.

Lafer: “The most important thing we can do is neighborhood stability…we need to make sure that [downtown] maintains its character while we expand the economic growth in that area.” Says we need to continue the direction started by the or New Leaf Initiative.

Mower: “I think that we need to look at developing some partnerships that we haven’t really pushed so far.” Plans to use these partnerships with Penn State and merchants’ associations to lobby legislators in Harrisburg.

Murphy: “All of these things come down to a conversation about zoning, and I admit that I don’t speak fluent zoning.” Says conversation about community spaces is important. Suggests a pedestrian mall on Allen Street between College Ave. and Beaver Ave. and new ways to incentivize local businesses.

Closing Statements

Cooper: “I would consider myself THE town and gown candidate.” Wants to bridge the divide between students and non-student residents.

Myers: “I know that government is not a business. Its functions are to serve the needs of its citizens and provide services in a safe environment.” Is proud of his work in his previous time on the council.

Murphy: “I’ve fallen in love. I love my work and I work hard at it, and I’m ready to get to work for State College.” Wants to create space for residents to be involved in the decision-making process.

Mower: “This is a great opportunity for us to continue our education through your questions…I’m a firm believer that representative government works best if your elected officials actually know what’s going on in your neighborhoods.”

Lafer: “In the time I’ve been here, I’ve been faculty, staff, and student.” Advocates for lobbying government to allow more local control to facilitate growth and change.

Cotarelo: “State College faces a series of challenges. Tensions are high among different generations, and the cost of living is pushing people out of the borough.” Wants to build a safer community, enhance well-being, and assess access and affordability. “I have my feet in both pools, and I feel I can bring the inter-generational lifestyle gap together.”

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa was the managing editor of Onward State from 2017-2019. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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